December 18, 2018

UNGA Adopts Resolution on Oceans and Seas, Stresses Their Role in 2030 Agenda

News Source: SDG Knowledge Hub

Author(s): Catherine Benson Wahlén

14 December 2018: The UN General Assembly (UNGA) adopted two texts on oceans and seas, with several speakers affirming the central role of healthy oceans and seas in achieving the SDGs. Member States described efforts to tackle marine plastic pollution, and expressed concern about the impacts of climate change on the world’s oceans.

The UNGA adopted the Resolution, ‘Oceans and the Law of the Sea’ (A/73/L.35), by a recorded vote with 121 Member States in favor and 1 against (Turkey) as well as three abstentions (Colombia, El Salvador and Venezuela). Singapore introduced the text, saying it takes stock of activities at the International Seabed Authority (ISA), including efforts on regulations for exploitation of mineral resources, as well as a range of additional issues, such as capacity building and peaceful resolution of disputes.

The ‘Oceans and the Law of the Sea’ Resolution describes efforts to elaborate the text of an international legally binding instrument under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity. The Resolution further calls on States: to become parties to the Agreement for the Implementation of the Provisions of UNCLOS, if they have not yet done so; and to harmonize their national legislation with the provisions of UNCLOS.

The UNGA also adopted a Resolution, ‘Sustainable Fisheries, Including through the 1995 Agreement for the Implementation of the Provisions of the UNCLOS of 10 December 1982 Relating to the Conservation and Management of Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks, and Related Instruments’ (A/73/L.41). Norway, which introduced the Resolution, said it represents a “step forward in the conservation and management of fish stocks.” She highlighted the Resolution’s emphasis on combating illegal fishing, addressing fishing overcapacity, promoting the sustainability of small-scale fisheries and ensuring decent working conditions in fisheries and other maritime sectors, and underscored the importance of sustainable fisheries in global food and nutrition security.

Without a dramatic shift in human behavior, oceanographic processes that moderate the global climate may be altered.

In the Resolution, the UNGA reaffirms the importance of long-term conservation, management and sustainable use of living marine resources of the world’s oceans and seas, and calls on States to cooperate in support of these ends. The UNGA urges States to increase their reliance on scientific advice in developing, adopting and implementing conservation and management measures.

Following the adoption of the two resolutions, Turkey said his country opposed references to UNCLOS in the resolutions, stressing that the Convention “is neither universal nor has a unified character.” Venezuela also stressed that UNCLOS does not have universal participation, and said it should not be considered the only legal instrument governing the sea. Singapore stressed its commitment to the law of the sea, emphasizing the importance of a multilateral rules-based system in securing the sustainability of oceans, seas and their resources. Iceland said the resolutions highlight the universal and unified character of the Convention, observing that sustainable natural resource management “is fundamental to our success.”

On oceans and the SDGs, Tuvalu, on behalf of the Pacific small island developing States (PSIDS), described the role of healthy, productive and resilient oceans and seas in poverty eradication, access to safe and nutritious food, ecosystem services and economic development. Jamaica, on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), said the fate of SIDS is integrally linked to the ocean’s health, and described CARICOM member States’ efforts to ban single-use plastics and support sustainable fishing practices. Monaco also shared efforts to restrict single-use plastics, and called for policy changes at the local level to tackle plastic pollution. Norway shared her country’s commitment to promote clean and healthy oceans. Japan supported efforts to address illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing, encouraging other countries to join the Agreement on Port State Measures. Kuwait underscored protection of the oceans and seas as critical to achieving the SDGs.

The EU said harmful fisheries subsidies contribute to overcapacity, overfishing and IUU fishing and are a key impediment to achieving sustainable fisheries. She emphasized the EU’s commitment to concluding negotiations on fisheries subsidies in the context of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in line with SDG target 14.6 that aims to prohibit certain forms of fisheries subsidies that contribute to IUU fishing by 2020. Bangladesh also supported completing the WTO negotiations on fisheries subsidies that address overcapacity and illegal fishing, underscoring their importance to achieving the SDGs. The US expressed concerns over the references to the WTO in the draft, saying the UN should respect the mandate of other institutions, but said her country would join consensus on the draft to reflect the importance the US places on sustainable fisheries.

Several delegates expressed concern on the impact of climate change on marine biodiversity, including Iceland. Nauru, on behalf of the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF), identified climate change as “the single greatest threat to the livelihood, security and well-being of Pacific peoples.” Maldives underscored the impact of climate change, stressing that, without a “dramatic shift in human behavior,” oceanographic processes that moderate the global climate may be altered. [UN Meeting Coverage]